Then and Now: The Forest at Tryon Creek
By Bruce Rottink, Volunteer Nature Guide and Retired Research Forester
Prior to the creation of Tryon Creek State Natural Area (SNA) around 1970, no group had as much impact on the forest as the loggers. The forest we see today at Tryon Creek State Natural Area (SNA) is much different from what the first loggers found, which they referred to as the “old growth” forest.
What was Tryon Creek like back then?
In contrast to today’s tranquil forest, in the era of the loggers, Tryon Creek was bustling with industrial activity. Starting in 1874 the forest was logged to produce charcoal to fuel the nearby iron furnace, parts of which are still visible in George Rogers Park. According to historical accounts, the loggers focused on cutting the 6-foot diameter Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziiesii) because Douglas-fir made the best charcoal. One of the most important modes of transportation in the park at that time was the charcoal wagons pictured below.
After the iron furnace closed for good about 1894, logging activity subsided. The second big logging push was from 1912 to 1915 when the Boones Ferry Wood and Tie Company logged in the park. Since much of the Douglas-fir had been taken for charcoal, the focus shifted to the western redcedar (Thuja plicata) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). The cedar was used for railroad ties, and the hemlocks were cut for poles.
Some lesser levels of logging around Tryon Creek continued until about 1961.
Are there any remnants of the logging era?
The most obvious remnants of logging are the large stumps scattered throughout the forest. One example is this stump on the Big Fir Trail. From ground level to the top where it was cut off it measures 10’ 4” high. The blackened notch (more about that later) you see in the side of the stump in the center of the picture is 7’ 6” above the ground. A stump just downstream from Obie’s bridge beats it with a height of 11’ 11” from ground to top, but it’s not as photogenic!
Why are many of the stumps so tall? One answer is “resin.”
There are several answers to the question as to why the stumps are so tall. The loggers discovered that oftentimes, the butt of the tree was a place that contained abnormally high quantities of resin. And the resin is sticky! As the loggers cut the tree, the resin would build up on the saw blade, and make it really hard to pull the saw through the wood. For small amounts of resin, the loggers had a solution – kerosene. Kerosene is a liquid somewhat similar to gasoline. To the loggers, its virtue was that it dissolved the resin on the saw blade, and made the sawyer’s job a lot easier. Referred to as “saw oil”, each sawyer kept some nearby in a saw oil bottle, an example of which is seen below.
Every saw oil bottle I’ve ever seen looks homemade. No two are alike. The glass part of the bottle pictured here was manufactured in England in the early 1900s. It was used by a logger in the Tillamook area in the 1930s. There is a notch in the side of the cork, so a sawyer could sprinkle the kerosene on the saw blade. An old logger told me that a good sawyer could saw and sprinkle at the same time. Wow!
Sometimes steep hills called for tall stumps!
Yet another reason some stumps are so tall is because they are growing on a slope, like the stump on the Big Fir Trail in the photo below. I’ve added a red line at the ground level on both the uphill and downhill sides of the stump. The yellow pole to the left is my measuring stick, and the white object on the right is my clipboard which is sitting on the ground. The cutting technology of the day, a two-man crosscut saw, required someone to be on each side of the tree. On the downhill side, this stump is 10’ 7” tall, and the uphill side is 6’ 6” tall.
What is “butt swell,” and how did it lead to tall stumps?
Yet another reason some of the stumps are so tall is because of what is in delicately referred to as “butt swell.” Butt swell is the tendency of trees, especially larger ones, to be bigger around near the ground-line than they were further up the trunk. This is dramatically illustrated by the old western redcedar stump on the West Horse Loop Trail pictured below. At the height the loggers made the cut, the current diameter is 5’ 2”, although some of the wood has doubtless weathered away since it was cut. The vertical red lines mark the width of the tree at the level where the loggers actually cut it off.
If the loggers had cut the tree off at the level of the horizontal blue line, closer to the ground, the cross-sectional area of the stump would have been 2.9 times greater than the cross-sectional area of the cut they actually made. This means the loggers would have had to do almost 3 times as much work to make the lower cut. (Homework: Print this picture, measure and calculate yourself. Remember: Area = 3.1416 x radius2.) Also, given the technology used in sawing lumber, all the wood outside of the red lines would have been wasted anyway. The obvious way to handle this need to cut the trees high above the ground was to hire really, really tall loggers!
Really Tall Loggers? C’mon, get real!
Okay, so the really tall logger thing didn’t work out; instead they simultaneously invented two things – the springboard and the springboard notch. The springboard was primarily just a wood plank, and the springboard notch was how you fastened the springboard in place. Putting the springboard in the notch created a small sturdy platform you could stand on whilst cutting the tree.
First, the springboard. It had a steel plate on one end with a sharp upward pointing cleat that could bite into the tree to hold the board in place. The underside of the “toe” of the board was tapered to ease the insertion of the springboard. Pictured below is a vintage springboard that has been restored with a new plank made of old growth Douglas-fir.
Springboards in Action
Here you’ll find what I like to call a “double-decker” springboard. This image is provided by the Oregon Historical Society, Photo # 6017.
Below, is a side view of a springboard notch. The essential features of the notch are a horizontal bottom to support the springboard, and a steeply angled top to allow for insertion of the springboard. The loss of the bark and weathering of the outer part of the tree makes the notch look shallower than it originally was.
Today’s much smaller trees have less butt swell and resin. The advent of the chainsaw made the actual sawing LOTS easier, while ensuring that you only needed a sawyer on one side of the tree. All of these factors led to the demise of the springboard.
Man-made logging relics too!
During logging’s hay-day at Tryon Creek, a saw mill was established in the Tryon Creek canyon in the vicinity of present day Beaver Bridge. To bring the logs to the mill, a steam donkey was located near the creek. A steam donkey, like the example in the photo below, was a vertically oriented steam engine that powered spools of cable to drag the logs out of the woods. The steam donkey below was mounted on the two large logs which functioned as skids so the donkey’s cables could be fastened to trees, and the donkey could pull itself through the woods. When it was pulling in logs, the donkey would be cabled to large trees to stabilize it.
As you might imagine, when pulling multi-ton logs through a forest, across stumps, and through brush, every now and then a cable would snap. A remnant of the cable used during Tryon Creek’s logging days can be seen as you stand on Obie’s Bridge and look upstream. On the right side of the creek you can see (depending on the water level and amount of debris) part of a steel cable that was used to pull logs out of the woods.
Tryon Creek’s Forest – Take 2!
Thankfully, the forest ecosystem is resilient, and following the loggers, the vibrant young forest that we see today regrew at Tryon Creek SNA.